Don’t No Platform Le Pen, argue with her

Jacob Furedi

Topics Culture

The BBC doesn’t have it easy. The left considers it part of the Tory machine, while the right views it as a subsidiary of the Guardian. Most recently, the Twitterati descended on the broadcaster after it aired an interview with Marine Le Pen, leader of Front National, on The Andrew Marr Show. People were outraged that the show dared to give a small portion of its airtime to the French far-right.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow education secretary, tweeted that the BBC’s interview was ‘so wrong’, while countless others shrieked in indignation. These people clearly didn’t listen to Andrew Marr’s introduction to the segment, in which he sensibly pointed out that ‘Le Pen could, under some circumstances, become the next French president in the spring’. Presumably, his viewers were too busy bashing out 140 outraged characters to hear him.

Le Pen is currently polling in second place in France’s presidential election – that’s ample justification for an interview. And Rayner’s consequent suggestion that the BBC should instead have interviewed ‘our veterans who fought fascists and lost so many comrades’ was ludicrous – unless, of course, the vets could shed some light on the nuances of French politics.

Ultimately, the backlash against the BBC wasn’t motivated by a specific dislike of Le Pen, but a broader hysteria about the supposed rise of fascism. Critics of the BBC insisted it would be more prudent to No Platform all fascists, in an attempt to stem their influence.

Such arguments reflect a complete disregard for freedom of speech, and assume that people are incapable of hearing far-right views without being instantly won over by them. What’s more, No Platforming extreme right-wingers undermines our ability to combat them. The best way to defeat the bigots and the nutjobs is to argue with them, and expose them, not push them underground.

This is what happened when Nick Griffin, then leader of the British Nationalist Party (BNP), was invited to appear on Question Time in 2009. The BBC was chastised for giving a platform to a racist bigot. But after Griffin’s appearance, in which he was grilled and ridiculed, the BNP collapsed – between the 2008 and 2012 local elections, the party’s share of the popular vote shrank from 250,000 to 26,000.

Given the backlash against the media following the election of Donald Trump, in which journalists were criticised for not taking his ideas seriously, you would think it is more important than ever to publicise and deconstruct dodgy views.

Following the Le Pen interview, one commentator warned that the far-right is being dressed up in ‘new media-savvy colours’. Well, let them put on their costumes. For no matter how ‘media-savvy’ their get-up is, a decent bout of serious debate will leave them exposed.

Jacob Furedi is a writer and student.

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Topics Culture


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